N24 May 14-17
Welcome to the Nurburgring – the wildest racetrack combined with action aplenty at every corner of every lap for 24 hours nonstop!
I forgot to mention there are 160 cars on 25km of race track which is famously referred to as the GREEN HELL
What might surprise you is racing doesn’t come naturally to me. I have always dreamed of driving fast cars and never thought I could see a race car let alone actually find myself behind the wheel. Back in 2011 and 2012 I was a guest of Aston Martin at this same race and I was amazed and intrigued by this multi-class racing. Maybe it was inevitable. but after tasting a little bit it prompted me to sign up to a fully fledged driving program with Aston Martin. The only goal of this program was to gain enough to skill to race on the Nurburgring, which is quite an undertaking I can assure you.
Fast forward to 2015 and I’m back for my second 24 hour race with Aston Martin at the world famous Nurburgring. Last year we finished with a second place in the specials class and I was lucky enough to be the best placed Australian, quite the debut! The best part of racing with Aston Martin are the people, everyone is so passionate about the famous “James Bond” brand and happy which makes for a great environment to be part of and for a proud Australian like myself very humbling.
Behind the scenes there are lot of tasks to be completed before we even step foot inside the car. In this modern age we have much paperwork which needs to be completed and our race equipment needs to be checked it complies with the latest safety standards. This is a good chance to bond with my fellow drivers as we have some time on our hands. There are some bigger names amongst the team as well this year, we have Chris Harris a motoring journalist that is the authority on the latest car information and evaluation. Next we get time to acquaint ourselves with our racecar, the brand new Aston Martin GT12. This year I’m even more lucky to be part of something special as Aston Martin always debut a new model of car which will eventually become a new model for the road. It’s quite unique because Aston Martin use all their know how to build this special racecar and then use the gruelling 24 hours of Nurburgring to evaluate the car and transfer all that knowledge to the something that you can buy from a showroom.
We have a good start to the weekend with Practice and qualifying going well. It’s important to build up during the event and there is no pressure to create a miracle lap time, this is endurance racing after all. We get a handle on the car and make further adjustments and improvements to the balance. We all agree the balance is perfect and can’t wait to begin racing.
Now the Nurburgring 24 hours is unique because all fans get a chance to step out on to the grid. There are no restrictions here so you can interact with all the drivers and see up close what the race cars are like, if you’re really lucky you can jump into the driver’s seat! I really enjoy this very relaxed grid walk to interact with so many passionate motorsport enthusiasts, it really is very humbling. This 2 hour grid walk goes so quickly and now it’s time to focus on the task at hand of racing.
Seeing 160 cars for the start of a race is spectacular, I feel there are no words to simply describe the sheer spectacle of this! The start is very tough, a quick left then right with both corners blind and drivers keen to make up places. We luckily sneak through with no dramas and set about with consistent laps from my team WolfGang. The first lap is fine but unfortunately we come up to a double yellow flag section with a speed limit of 60 km/hr. As Wolfgang brakes for the safety of the marshalls a BMW hits him from behind. We received some damage to the diffuser and rear downforce but still keep going. Then at the end of the 8th lap a Bentley makes contact on the front left of the car and we have to pit to fix the steering damage. Not the best start!
We quickly go about repairing the car and very soon we resume the fight on track. The brakes had been shuttering during the first stint so we have closed the brake ducts up even more to keep some temperature in the brakes. The weather is very cold in the Eifel region this time of year and rain is ever present to appear without notice. Florian does a great job in his stint and maintains a good fightback.
It’s 7.30pm and I get my first laps in the race. I make a quick and smooth driver change and set about putting in some fast consistent laps. The car is lacking rear downforce so through some of the high speed corners I can feel the rear moving around. It now feels like I have a bucking bronco plus the brakes are shuttering still but we continue to push. I feel the brake performance to be reduced so I inform the team to have a quick look in the next pitstop. Unfortunately with the Bentley contact we have an oil leak and need to spend more time in the pits.
We cycle through the drivers and continue to lap as best we can. Florian and I do double stints during the night trying to make up as much time as we can. Now if you thought driving around the Nurburgring during the day is tough wait till you drive at night. There are many campsites beside the track with all kinds of lighting, bonfires, fireworks, and flash photography (feels identical to a speed camera) present! So once all that is taken in plus complete darkness and 159 other cars on track it’s a certainly a very tough period of the race.
Again at the end of my stint I feel something is wrong with the brakes, this time is worse it feels like i’m sliding on my own fluids. We come into the pits and again the oil leak problems continues. This time it could be terminal for us. The team try everything possible and decide to run without an oil cooler and hope that we don’t over heat. I jump back in the car and try some steady laps in the dark while checking the oil temperature. With each lap we are lucky to have a consistent oil temperature and we don’t overheat without the oil cooler, thank you freezing cold Nurburgring.
We continue lapping through the night into the morning which is a very difficult part of the race. The human body after being awake and with a major lack of sleep naturally wants to sleep with the first sight of sunrise. Impressively we are sitting in second place and continue to press on and to push hard. We are closing in on first place now and we have enough time to be able to catch them. Florian does a great double stint to edge us closer to our competition.
I jump into the car about 8.30am ready for a double stint of my own, approx 3 hours. I love this time of day, the air is crisp and good for lap times. I run a conservative approach and try to maximise fuel while sticking to a good lap time. I have trouble free laps but unfortunately that doesn’t last for long. I approach one of the most famous nurburgring corners and for some reason the car is in neutral. I attempt to restart the car but again neutral, after 19 hours of racing I am devastated. I climb out of the car and discover a trail of oil behind the car and realise it’s terminal, I’m too far from the pits and the race is over for us.
I have to say a special mention to the wonderful crew from Aston Martin. Throughout the entire race they did everything to ensure our car was in a position to fight for the podium. They are the best crew who kept us in with a fighting chance right to the end.
While this years Nurburgring 24 hour didn’t go according to plan, we will be back in 2016 and can not wait!
Hope to see you there